Bliss Broyard Essay - Critical Essays


Bliss Broyard’s first short-story collection generally garnered high praise as an auspicious debut. She is especially praised for her depiction of a young woman’s coming-of-age and for her cool, economical style. Most important is her theme of a father’s effect on a growing daughter, who sees him as the first and possibly the most important man in her life. Some of these father-daughter stories have their sources in Broyard’s own life, particularly the title story “My Father, Dancing,” which was based on Broyard’s thoughts and feelings as her father lay dying in the hospital.

The voice and the perspective of each story are those of a young woman, and whether named Lily, Kate, Pilar, or Lucy, these young women are essentially the same woman with the same perspective. In addition, their situations, while sometimes comical, also provoke considerable apprehension. Furthermore, all the fathers in this collection share a close kinship—if not always famous, they are consistently handsome, suave, and overwhelming. Many of the stories feature fathers whose roguish, seductive sexuality has a powerful effect on their impressionable daughters. The bond between these often slick and breezy fathers and their adoring daughters is depicted in these stories as both a blessing and a curse, so that it is difficult to decide whether such a bond is an advantage or a catastrophe.

Many of her stories also depict the problems Broyard’s young women have with men their own age, who often rate a poor second compared to the charming fathers of the previous generation. The psychological issues involving fathers and lovers are compounded by the difficulties involved in coming of age in a social world marked by permissive sexuality, divorce, blended families, and infidelity.

My Father, Dancing

In My Father, Dancing, five of the eight stories concern a daughter’s intense relationship with an adored, charming, and successful father. In the title story, a young woman named Kate reviews her life with her father as he lies dying from cancer. Central to these memories is her father’s love of dancing with her to popular songs of the day at home or in clubs, even in preference to his dancer-wife, Kate’s mother. There is considerable apprehension and genuine grief over the impending loss of her father, but when Kate returns to her family living room after her father dies and has a vision of her father as he was the first time he ever danced with her, when she was but a toddler, she realizes that their intense bond has, in an almost magical way, survived his death.

Kate’s father is the first in a series of charismatic fathers in this collection. In the second story, “Mr. Sweetly Indecent,” however, the charming father is associated with out-of-bounds sexual behavior. In this story, the daughter, while leaving a sexual liaison with a virtual stranger, spies her father kissing a woman with whom he has obviously also spent the night. The parallels between their behavior disturb her, but she also sees that her father, as a married family man, is the more culpable. Her father breezily alleviates his daughter’s sense of betrayal,...

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